I have been encouraged by my beautiful Goddaughter to “get it out there” when it comes to my short story collection, The Juice and Other Stories. She’s right, of course. Mainly, I’ve been writing, publishing, and forgetting, since I only have limited time. However, writing and not being read is like dying a virgin.
It’s cool, but only if you’re doing it on purpose.
So I will publish one of my short stories, entitled “Remembering,” in 3 parts. I hope you enjoy it. In fact, I hope you enjoy it enough to buy a Kindle version or paperback copy. The ebooks contain 13 stories, and the paperback 15 stories, including 2 only previously featured on this blog. Amazon Prime members can get the paperback version for under $10. It’s also available on Barnes & Noble for $9.07. If sufficient demand arises, I’ll also get a NOOK version out here.
Without further ado, here is part 1 of “Remembering.”
The People have been walking for weeks. Two thousand sixty-four dead. Most days, I wish I ranked among the lucky few whom have no idea how many we have lost. Most families have been touched by death. There is no time to mourn, however. The Herders do not wait. We no longer even bother with our burial ceremonies. Set the bodies afire; say a prayer, and then march. Only I count the deaths. Someone needs to remember them, say the elders. I am that someone. I am called Tofray, the Rememberer. That is not the word in my language, but it is one we have learned from them. More will die before we reach the end of the trail, and I will sing their song. There are no tears for the dead along the trail. Time only for marching. We shall cry when we reach the end. Some have already named it Atok’taywa – the Place Where We Shall Weep. Just over eight thousand of us live.
Perhaps I will be fortunate and die. Then someone else will have to do the remembering.
“You lot get going,” says the lead herder. He is foul, this one. His pelt is black, like an unnatural midnight that rapes the heavens of its stars. There are many like him. His large, square head houses eyes too weak to see in our sunlight. To compensate for this failing, he wears an odd contrivance that allows him to see nearly as well as our blind. He is tall and strong, like our burden beasts, which they ride, while we walk. Only his stench is worse than his demeanor. “They’ll still be dead next week when the clean-up team comes through.”
He pulls the weeping widow from her dead mate’s carcass, jerking her to her feet by one arm. I hear the snap as her shoulder separates. She will be dead in a week’s time, I fear. We have no cures for infection on the trail. The herders are not of our kind, not from our world. Their medicines help us no more than their prayers. Our bodies reject their drugs, their stench, their aid, which sweeps upon us as death.
It is winter now, and we have been walking two months. We are a People of the dry lands, unaccustomed to cold, to wet, to the thin atmosphere of the mountains. We have no cloths against the cold. Indeed, most of us wear no soles beneath our feet. We were meant to hold the sand between our toes, not winter’s frost. Some of the herders provided my People with coverings against the cold. Five hundred accepted the cloths. Though they reeked of the herders’ stench, they were thick and warm. The ice sand that falls wets the cloth, but does not penetrate. For that five hundred, it was salvation.
Until the sweating death that followed. Their skins began to swell and redden, as if put to a slow boil. The death that followed was swift. The herders burned the five hundred, and the cloths. The lead herder scowled, saying, “You lot infected the blankets.” It is our fault that they bring us death. Our responsibility that fate placed our planet along their route. Our doing that the fire mountains spit out the green rock that the herders find so pleasing.
And so, we walk, taking to the trail, to find more rocks. There have been no more gifts of clothing from the herders. None of my People would have accepted them in any case. We are a “backward” People, but there are no fools left among us.
Fools die quickest.
The winters here are frigid, but we have grown strong against it. Even without soles beneath my feet, the cold no longer pains me. Our blood grows thicker here. Those few of us who survive, will adapt. I survey my People, the four thousand one hundred and two of us who yet live. Three in five have perished on the trail. Few of us even bother to stop when one falls. We still mourn, and the anger grows, but we will no longer give the herders the pleasure of our pain. We feign indifference, mimicking their reality. Oddly, it seems to cause them to hate us less. Some of the herders, the ones we call the Sand Herders, surreptitiously give food or drink to the weakened. Their pelt is like our native soil, a reminder of home. The Sand Herders yield, however, to the midnight herders. Perhaps they once walked a trail of death, as have we.
“Your deaths were not our intention,” they say, in whispers.
Our response is mute. Death requires no answer.